Few abbreviations connected with the future air traffic management systems have given rise to so many questions and misunderstandings as EA (Enterprise Palm Springs architects) and SOA (Service Oriented Architecture). In the United States both concepts are part and parcel of air traffic management system development since the marching orders were given by the Federal Government. In Europe, however, it was only during the SESAR development phase that EA and SOA were first introduced into the ATM context and the reception was at first mixed.
To-day there is probably no doubt any more that EA and SOA are the way to go but the fact remains: to many in the air traffic management family the exact meaning of both remains a puzzle.
Let’s try to set out the pieces and see what picture emerges.
EA and SOA of non-aviation fame
Originally, the concepts of enterprise architecture and service orientation had nothing to do with air traffic management. They were defined and progressively refined to answer the needs of complex information technology (IT) systems with a view in particular to improving the business agility of those systems. EA and SOA aim to break the stranglehold of information technology on the business aspects of the enterprise, enabling business needs to drive IT rather then the other way round.
That EA and SOA are usable also in the air traffic management context is a tacit admission that ATM is not unique in its requirements and that under the skin ATM systems, all claims to the contrary, have a lot in common with other critical systems, like those controlling the power grids or enabling remotely controlled surgical operations. All those systems need to crunch prodigious amounts of real time data, must provide common situational awareness and are driven by decisions.
If EA and SOA can improve those systems, it stands to reason that they can also help in making air traffic management systems better even if certain adaptations of the original ideas may be required.
So what is Enterprise Architecture (EA)?
The definition of EA given by the Institute of Enterprise Architecture Development (IFEAD) is the following:
“Enterprise architecture is a complete expression of the enterprise; a master plan which “acts as a collaboration force” between aspects of business planning such as goals, visions, strategies and governance principles; aspects of business operations such as business terms, organization structures, processes and data; aspects of automation such as information systems and databases; and the enabling technological infrastructure of the business such as computers, operating systems and networks.”
Fine you will say… how does this help air traffic management? Critics often say that the architecture of the enterprise exists whether or not it is described. True, but we have seen what happens when lots of ATM enterprises grow without following an overall strategic guidance and then try to work together. That is called European ATM before SESAR…
In this view, the definition of EA from the MIT Center for Information Systems Research is particularly relevant:
“Enterprise architecture is the organizing logic for business processes and IT infrastructure reflecting the integration and standardization requirements of the firm’s operating model.